In an earthly family, it is natural for children to love their parents and one another. If they do not, then that family will have lots of problems. In a sense, it is not difficult to love God, especially when we recall what he has done for us as sinners. We know that he will give us all things that we need for our spiritual journey. Yet we also know that at times we do not love all his people, even although love for them is a clear evidence of new life.
The reason for lack of love towards another child of God is always in ourselves. At times, the original cause may be in an action done or a word said by the believer whom we are finding hard to love. Yet we are responsible for our reactions, even when provoked. Still, the sad fact is that usually the original cause of lack of love is in ourselves.
How can we know when we love the children of God? John goes a clear-cut answer: it is by obedience to God’s commandments. Moreover, John reminds his readers that it is not a difficult thing to obey the commandments of God. The Lord does not place heavy burdens on his people as far as the demands of his commandments are concerned. At times, he can place heavy burdens in providence, such as illness or disappointments. But there are no heavy burdens in the commandments he has given.
John here is restating the same description that Jesus had given concerning God’s commandments: ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’ (Matt. 11:29-30). Jesus was contrasting the loving demands of God with the legalistic requirements of the Pharisees. Their rules were burdensome, whereas the commandments of God are liberating. It is not a burden for a bird to obey God and fly a distance; but if it cannot fly, then it is a burden. The way for Christians to make progress is to obey the commandments of Jesus and to pay no attention to the legalistic notions devised by others.
John gives another evidence of new life when he writes that his hearers can have spiritual victory over the world. But what does John mean by victory here? A clue is given in verse 5. There he says that victory is equivalent to doctrinal fidelity, in this case by continuing to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. That doctrine was under attack at that time, but they won the victory by adhering to the truth about Jesus. The world wanted the church to compromise on what it believed. Determination to stick to the truth is a sign of new life. A willingness to compromise doctrinal fundamentals is a clear sign of the absence of new life.
So we need to ask if we have these two evidences of new life.